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Heart rate monitors (HRM) are now considered an important part of one's workout gear--some exercisers would no sooner work out without an HRM than they would without their shoes. Some consider an HRM even more important than an iPod!

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This diary will look at the one HRM feature that has driven this increase in popularity--estimating calories burned during a workout. I will attempt to describe the scientific rationale behind this feature and point out the benefits and shortcomings. I will focus primarily on products from Polar, not to single them out in any way positively or negatively, but because they have the largest market share and their products are the ones that most exercisers--and myself--are familiar with.

From humble beginnings as a simple device to count heartbeats, HRMs have now evolved into virtual coaches and trainers--tracking calories, measuring fitness levels, suggesting workouts and even measuring state of recovery from your previous workout.

Many heart rate monitors now claim to be able to measure the amount of calories one expends during exercise. Since weight loss is one of the primary reasons why people exercise, the ability to track daily caloric expenditure is an important part of a weight-loss program. Exercise calories can represent a varied and significant part of one's daily expenditure, so a product that can provide a calorie number can be an important tool, as well as a powerful motivator.

Exercise equipment manufacturers realized this a number of years ago and began to include caloric expenditure as part of the equipment display. While some types of exercise movements (treadmill walking/running, cycling on an ergometer, or stair climbing) have well-established calorie prediction equations that can easily be programmed into an equipment display, others, like elliptical cross trainers, do not. Some years ago, it was revealed that many manufacturers were significantly overestimating calorie expenditure on their machines, in an effort to attract more users. So while some machines from major manufacturers like Life Fitness and Precor provide pretty reliable numbers, the public has grown to view all machine readouts with suspicion.

Unfortunately, that same level of skepticism is often tossed aside when considering the calorie numbers given by HRMs. Not only do many people place unquestioned faith in the numbers from their HRMs, they are using HRMs to measure calories for unrelated activities, such as strength training and yoga, and are wearing HRMs for 24 hours to record daily caloric expenditure.

We need to look at how HRMs estimate calories and under what conditions are these numbers valid.

First of all: Heart rate monitors do not measure anything except heart rate. They do not measure oxygen uptake or caloric expenditure directly--just heart rate.

Caloric expenditure is actually related to oxygen uptake (VO2). When the body produces energy, it consumes oxygen. As work intensity increases, oxygen uptake increases. By measuring oxygen uptake, we can measure caloric expenditure. During dynamic, aerobic exercise, the increased need for oxygen is met via increased cardiac output. At fairly low levels of exertion, the heart reaches maximum stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by each heart beat), therefore cardiac output can only be increased by increasing heart rate.

During aerobic exercise, there is a consistent relationship between heart rate and oxygen uptake. If heart rate increases by X%, oxygen uptake increases by essentially the same percentage. If we know one's percentage of HRmax during exercise, we can estimate their percentage of VO2 max and use that number to estimate oxygen uptake, and thus caloric consumption. To determine that estimated number, the HRM must be programmed with the user's resting heart rate (HRrest), maximum heart rate (HRmax), maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), age, gender, and weight.

In summary: if we know your VO2 max is 40 and we know that you are working at 70% of HRmax and we know that 70% of HRmax is equivalent to 57% of VO2 max, we can estimate that your oxygen uptake is 57% of 40 (or 22.8) and we can easily estimate caloric expenditure from that number. (HRMs account for the continuous fluctuations that take place during exercise, so this is not math that you can realistically do on your own workouts).

Now this is an oversimplification, but that's the basic concept. In reality, there are a number of other variables to take into consideration and Polar uses much more sophisticated algorithms to make their calculations, but the basic principle is the same.

Because the caloric expenditure is inferred rather than directly measured, there are several points in the process where they can be in error.

First the main point: heart rate can only be used to estimate caloric expenditure when the heart rate/oxygen uptake relationship exists--i.e. during aerobic exercise.

If heart rate increases without a corresponding increase in cardiac output, oxygen uptake (and thus caloric expenditure) does NOT increase.

Weight lifting, thermal stress, illness, dehydration, emotional stress, proportionately greater amount of arm work, and cardiovascular drift during aerobic exercise--these are all conditions under which an increase in heart rate will NOT be matched by an increase in caloric expenditure to the same degree. Under these conditions, HRMs may significantly overestimate caloric expenditure.

Cardiovascular drift refers to a condition where, during prolonged aerobic exercise, heart rate increases without any increase in workload. This is thought to be due primarily to loss of fluid and increased body temperature. During a 45-60 min workout, heart rates in some individuals can increase 10-20 beats/min when maintaining the same workload. I have observed that during a 45 min stairmaster workout, my Polar calorie reading for the second half of the workout will increase by 25% over the first half, even when workload is kept constant.

(Disclosure: I do not know what programming Polar has done, if any, to address cardiovascular drift. I have not found any information on the net one way or the other and the Polar reps I have asked about this didn't know the answer. I am basing my conclusions on my experience and those of others I have worked with).

So you should not rely on calorie readings that are recorded during traditional strength training (e.g. lifting weights with a standard set/reps routine), at rest, or during activities in which your heart rate is less than 100 beats/min.

Does this mean HRMs are not that reliable? Not at all. The points of potential error I have identified are all due the complexity and variability of human physiology, not any shortcomings by Polar or others. Quite frankly, it is impressive to me that they can be as accurate as they are.

And for activities that involve intermittent, varied activities, or unmeasured workloads--e.g. aerobic classes, spinning classes--an HRM is the only reliable measuring tool you have.

My primary motivation for presenting this information is to give people information to make informed choices and to dispel the ideas that HRMs directly measure calories and represent a "gold standard" for estimating calories expended during exercise.

More research is being done to improve the accuracy of the caloric estimates. A company called Firstbeat Technologies claims that they have analyzed minute fluctuations in heart rate intervals that allows them to not only estimate calorie expenditure with improved precision during many activities, but also estimate post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and degree of recovery from a previous workout. They have licensed their technology to Suunto and it is included in their Tc series of watches (only the top model includes the EPOC function). I am sure Polar is doing similar research--both companies are headquartered in Finland.

How to get the most out of your HRM?
Your HRM will only be as good as the information you enter in the basic setup. For best accuracy, you need to enter the most accurate data possible during the setup and update that information regularly as necessary.

Age, Gender, Height, Weight: These are pretty easy and self-explanatory. Just remember to update your weight when it changes by a notable amount (say 5 lbs).

Resting Heart Rate: Again, this should be pretty easy to measure. Check it first thing in the morning before getting out of bed; do it 2 or 3 days to get a consistent number. If you are starting a program, or recommitting to a program, this may also change over time, so recheck periodically and adjust as necessary.

Maximum Heart Rate: This is one of the tricky ones, but also a crucial one to get as accurate as possible. You can start with one of the various age-prediction formulae (e.g. 220-age; there are a bunch on the net--google "maximum heart rate calculator" and take your pick).

Keep in mind that a number of people have actual maximum heart rates that are significantly higher than "average"--your HRM will probably calculate your target HR range for you. Everyone should always compare recommended target HR with your perceived exertion. If your heart rate seems really high, but you don't feel you are working that hard, you will have to go into setup and increase that max HR number. Absent a max exercise test, you will just have to do some trial and error.

Maximum Oxygen Consumption: This is even trickier, because, unlike HRmax, many people do not have a clue where to even start on this number. Polar has a "fitness test" that uses resting heart rate to estimate VO2 max. I am very skeptical, but I have never been able to try it out on myself--either my rest HR is too low or when I have tried it, it was too irregular, but I have never gotten anything but error readings. I would start with the Polar number and go from there. Some machines have a submax test protocol available as a program--you could try one of those, or some facilities offer a fitness assessment that includes a submax test--if you have had one of those recently, you could use that number as well.

Hopefully, this will help you get the most out of your heart rate monitor.

October 23
    Fri AM - freedapeople
    Fri PM - Be Your Own Geneticist: Chapter 2:
             Experimentation and Wrong Diagnosis with louisev

  October 24
    Sat AM -  cdkipp - Green Tea and Your Metabolism
    Sat PM  - Edward Spurlock (Kessler, Ch. 17)

  October 25
    Sun AM - Turtle Diary
    Sun PM - kismet

  October 26
    Mon AM - NC Dem
    Mon PM - ???

  October 27
    Tues AM - ??
    Tues PM - Clio2 (Kessler, Ch. 18)

  October 28
    Weds AM - ???
    Weds PM - Edward Spurlock

  October 29
    Thrs AM - A DC Wonk
    Thrs PM - ???

If you have ideas for a WHEE diary, please sign up in the tip jar.

Originally posted to Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 03:50 PM PDT.


Do you use a heart rate monitor in your workouts?

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| 45 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

    by Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 03:50:42 PM PDT

  •  "Yes, all the time, heart rate and calories" (10+ / 0-)

    But only for comparison against my bodybugg now.

    And not during weight lifting. I use the machines, and I've gotten a rib sprain against my HRM transmitter when doing leg curls on my home bench.

  •  Very good summary of a complicated subject. (10+ / 0-)

    Although I don't use one, I am always fascinated watching some of my class members and even other instructors extending an exercise due to an approching calorie goal.  Anything that motivates is good!

    •  Interesting, I do that at home on the treadmill. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdkipp, Mother Shipper

        I scan the functions, make sure I have been at 70% of HRmax for 20 minutes, reached HRmax at least 4 times on intervals, and have run at least 2 miles.
      And even with all these checked off, I'll look at calories burned and stay with the run until I reach the next 50 step in calories. Thus if I am at 225 on the calorie counter, I'll stay with it until 250.

  •  Great diary (8+ / 0-)

    Good information and well written.

    I use a HRM during exercise, but for heart rate purposes only. I found that I increased my rate of weight loss after I started using the monitor and that I am getting a nice steady decrease in body mass.

    There are so many variables when it comes to weight and efficacy of exercise. What we do know for sure that the old saw that, "it's all about calories in and calories out", is incomplete advice and a person can be helped by getting and applying the information provided by a HRM.

    Thanks for the diary.

    "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." ...Bertrand Russell

    by sebastianguy99 on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:18:48 PM PDT

  •  So, my question is (6+ / 0-)

    How does an HRM and a Bodybug differ?  Is bodybugg just a brand name or does it actually offer more/better functionality?

    Repubs - the people in power are not secretly plotting against you. They don't need to. They already beat you in public. (Bill Maher)

    by Sychotic1 on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:24:47 PM PDT

    •  Bodybugg (7+ / 0-)

      Measures in multiple ways.  It has an accelerometer but also throws on little electrical pad thingy that's against your skin so it can measure how much heat you're putting out and how much resistance your skin has (sweat lowers electrical resistance).  And then they have some fancy formula that puts it all together into calorie burn.

      •  Wow That Is The Formula (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sychotic1, cdkipp, Brimi

        "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

        by webranding on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:37:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I have read a couple of papers put out by.... (6+ / 0-)

        Astro Teller, the inventor of the BodyBugg. Way too much math for me.

        My natural inclination is to be wary of the BB, because my years of physiology experience suggests that a device like this cannot be as accurate as its inventors claim.

        However, I am also trying to be open-minded and I have yet to find any glaring deficiencies.

        As the BB becomes more popular, I am sure graduate students all over the country will use it as a topic for their theses and we will probe its secrets more thoroughly.

        If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

        by Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 06:12:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The other major difference... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sychotic1, NC Dem, cdkipp

        ...between an HRM and a bodybugg is that the HRM is designed to measure exercise sessions, while the bodybugg system (armband plus Web site) is optimized for measuring daily calorie burn.

        While the HRM provides more physiological parameters, the bodybugg system is ideal for finding out the total number of calories the user has burned at any point during the day (provided one has access to the bodybugg Web site, or is using the optional wrist display). I find it much easier to behave in my eating if I know how many calories I have remaining in my "budget." If I've driven the car to work (like today), I might choose more green vegetables instead of a calorie-dense starch at dinner, and eat a small piece of fruit for desert, since I burned fewer calories by dinnertime than if I'd ridden my bike to work and back instead.

        The two devices complement each other very well - the HRM is a poor substitute for a calorie burn counter, and the bodybugg does not provide any of the data needed for athletic training. But the HRM is invaluable for training, and the bodybugg is a great tool for weight management.

        •  I'm still not 100% convinced...... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sychotic1, cdkipp, Edward Spurlock

          but, like I said, I am keeping an open mind.

          I am well aware of the dangers of being a professional in a field and not accepting new technology and new paradigms.

          But I am also well aware of the wide range of variability in the human population that often confounds attempts to take results from the controlled conditions of research labs and generalize them to the public.

          And, finally, as a long time professional in the field, I have seen innumerable, well-recommended gimmicks come and go. And the sensing/measuring methods used in the BB and GWF are so far removed from the actual physiological processes that are occurring, it is hard to accept that they can deliver as promised.

          If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

          by Azdak on Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 05:59:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  here's Edward's detailed diary about (7+ / 0-)
  •  I always chuckle (7+ / 0-)

    at the calorie counter on the elliptical at the gym. I'm sorry, but I did not burn 400 calories in a half hour.

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:25:33 PM PDT

    •  That's actually why I got the bodybugg (8+ / 0-)

      I was using sparkpeople's online exercise database to estimate my calorie burn, and 42 minutes on the elliptical was supposedly worth 500ish calories, while the machine itself said 200ish. I wanted to know what was right.     Measuring it with the Bodybugg I found it was 330ish.  So right there was an excellent explanation for why I wasn't losing weight -- I was balancing consumption against wrong values.  

      •  One of the best pieces of advice (5+ / 0-)

        I ever got about weight loss was to simply ignore any calorie impact from going to the gym. Go anyway; do a good workout, but don't otherwise think about it. It's much easier to measure the calories in what you eat.

        Ok, so I read the polls.

        by andgarden on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:45:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  For me, (9+ / 0-)

          the difference between exercising and not exercising means the difference between having to consume less than 1300 calories to lose weight, and being able to eat closer to 1800 calories per day while losing weight.   I found that that difference was very significant in being able to maintain a weight loss program and not feel utterly craptacular.  So I need to track it, and work out daily.

          •  Hey, if you can keep up with it (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cdkipp, Brimi

            good for you.

            Ok, so I read the polls.

            by andgarden on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 05:14:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  This is especially true for exercisers (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

             who are within 10-12 lbs of their goal weight. I have been looking at research which I may diary on Monday that relates how people with lower body fat %'s and thus close to goal weight lose a much higher percentage of muscle to fat than a person who is 40-50 lbs overweight.

              In cases where you want to lose 90% fat and only 10% muscle in a week, you might need to have a calorie deficit of only 800-1000 calories for the week if you want to maintain a maximum % of muscle. Based upon what I have read thus far, if you have a true calorie deficit of 3500, you may actually lose more than "one lb" because as much as 30% may be muscle and thus the 3500 figure for fat loss doesn't hold true.

             I just wish I could afford to get the actual full research abstracts since most of them are behind firewalls except for members to the journals. I may have to go online and see if I can get a copy of the journal through interlibrary loan.  

            •  I have seen similar research.... (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              NC Dem, cdkipp, Edward Spurlock

              I thought it was really interesting in that the loss of fat free mass (FFM) was attenuated in those who exercised more vigorously, but it still was notable to significant. The idea had always been that exercise, esp strength training, would prevent loss of FFM.

              Having gone through the process personally (losing 55 lbs in 5 months, 30 in the first 2), I gained some new insights.

              Weight loss, IMO, is a balance between the physiological and the psychological. The physiologic data (like the research you mention) argues strongly for the "slow and steady" approach. However, in the real world, many (most?) people have problems with compliance and motivation if results come too slowly. The importance of losing a noticeable amount of weight relatively quickly as a motivator and reinforcement cannot be underestimated, even if a percentage of that scale loss is FFM.

              The method is also important--since gimmicks like "diets", "cleanses" and even non-gimmick interventions like medication can result in quick plateaus and regaining the weight, so I am not saying that every "quick loss" method is acceptable, but I think calorie-restricted plans (1200-1500 Cal/day) can be helpful.

              I am starting to develop in my head the concept of "staged" weight loss, instead of thinking of it as a linear continuum. You get the initial "jump start", continue refining eating habits and ramping up your fitness level and exercise program in the next stage, go "all out" until that initial loss has occurred, then transition into a more gradual program that includes a decreased calorie deficit, much slower "progress", but more focused exercise to kind of remodel your body.

              I have the same frustration about only seeing abstracts. Supposedly, I can get a library card for the local community college library that will allow me to access many journals online from my home. For whatever reason, I just have never driven over to the campus and completed the process. If you have a similar option, I would look into it.

              If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

              by Azdak on Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 06:41:22 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Wow (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              NC Dem, cdkipp

              That's right where I am.  I want to lose about 10 more pounds, or maybe even only 7.  And I am clearly losing some muscle -- though part of that may have been due to having the flu and spending a week lying down.

              Maybe I just have to go really sloooow from here.

  •  maximum heart rate (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1864 House, cdkipp, Brimi

    When I did the triathlon training (back when I could afford such things), they had us do 4 different exercises, at varying levels of effort and did some calculation with the results. They (the TriZones training people) said that those charts just aren't accurate and you should calculate your own. Mine is 190, or at least it was the last time I tested.

    •  They are and they aren't..... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NC Dem, anotherdemocrat, cdkipp

      The problem is that, in the normal population distribution, there is an standard error of estimate of 10-12 beats/min. Standard bell curve distribution says that 33% of the population can fall substantially outside the HRmax calculated by the formula.

      The only other option is to test to true HRmax, which is not only risky for many people, it is difficult to do--most people cannot or will not push themselves to that level.

      That's why I always recommend that when people start using HRMs, they just observe for a few workouts, and compare the numbers they see with their rate of perceived exertion.

      I can spot the "high heart rate" people easily, even on a submaximal test, but I have a many years of observational experience.

      If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

      by Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 05:58:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Can I Have The 26th Please n/t (6+ / 0-)

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:31:48 PM PDT

  •  HRM (7+ / 0-)

    Here's a graph of my HR during a recent 4-mile run on a relatively flat trail at a steady 9-minute pace:

    That's with a Polar chest-strap HRM and their Polar Pro Trainer software.

    It trends upward throughout the run as you say. I've noticed this consistently over the years. I do sweat quite a bit & lose up to 3 pounds of water during such a run--interesting that that might be part of the reason for the "drift." I suppose its possible that even at a constant output (speed) that an increasing heart rate could actually represent more calories per second burned, if, say, the body becomes less efficient due to fluid loss, etc.

    My heart rate tops out at around 165 (reached at the end of the run).

    •  Based on the "zones" listed on the chart.... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jmknapp, NC Dem, anotherdemocrat, cdkipp

      I suspect your HRmax is one of those that is on the high side vs the prediction formula.

      While your heart is working harder (because of the increased HR), your overall calories do not increase that much if workload is constant.

      Nice graph--being a data-intensive guy, this almost makes me want to upgrade my HRM to a newer model ;-)

      If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

      by Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 06:02:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  HRmax (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NC Dem, cdkipp

        Using 220-age, I get 220-54 -- 166. During my runs anything above 160 starts feeling like "two minute warning" territory--at least I don't want to push it much beyond that. Basically for whatever distance I pace it so that I hit 160 at the end. Currently for me that's around a 9-minute pace for 4 miles, or a 10-minute pace for 7 miles.

        Back when I was 30 I also used a HRM and my max was more like 185 and the times were correspondingly better, almost proportionally. Such data can be a good reality check on pronouncements such as "I feel no different than when I was 30!"

  •  No heart rate monitor, but I am... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anotherdemocrat, cdkipp, Brimi

    ...the proud owner of a Trion T200 home gym with a leg press attachment.

    It is all paid for, and sitting in the middle of my garage.

    I really have to start using it sometime.

    At least, that was the original idea.

    Incidentally, the old garage door opener burned out a while back and needs to be replaced with a new one. The repair guy said that I need to move my home gym just a few inches to the left to allow access to the garage door opener unit.

    I'm reminded of an old Jetsons episode...

    In the second episode, the main competition to Spacely Sprockets, Cogswell Cogs, moves next door in an apparent attempt to spy. Mr. Spacely hands George the plans for the property and demands that George figure out a way to build a high wall. George’s son Elroy notices that the Cogswell Cogs building is six inches over the property line! Mr. Spacely celebrates the news and demands that Cogswell move his building.

    A beaten Cogswell goes along until he notices that George had the plans upsidedown, and that it’s Spacely who is over the property line! Now Cogswell demands that Spacely move. George is fired (again) until one day, when poking around his old office space, George notices a city zoning inspector measuring the Cogswell building to find it six inches higher than regulations permit. The zoning police declare that the Cogswell building be torn down! George delivers the great news to Mr. Spacely, only to have Spacely announce the news that instead of moving his building, he had agreed to buy Cogswell’s now-worthless property!


    illegal, n. A term used by descendents of European immigrants to refer to descendants of Indigenous Americans

    by ricardomath on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:57:14 PM PDT

  •  Protein question (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1864 House, anotherdemocrat, cdkipp, Brimi

    I've often supplemented my homemade green drinks with a little whey flour, which is pretty expensive for that dose of protein but what the hell. Recently I've noticed that vital wheat gluten protein flour is 70% protein by weight compared to 80% protein by weight for whey flour.

    For that extra 10% protein I pay $12.99/lb versus $2.79/lb for vital wheat gluten. So my question is this: is there any fundamental quality difference between the protein in whey flour and the protein in VWG flour?


    Beer cans are beautiful. It's the roads that are ugly. -- Edward Abbey

    by frankzappatista on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 04:59:23 PM PDT

    •  Protein answer (5+ / 0-)

      Wheat gluten has a very low amount of the essential amino acid lysine.  That makes it a much less complete protein than whey (a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score of 0.25 versus 1.14 for whey.)

      Whether getting a "complete" protein is important or not is potentially very complicated -- it depends on why you are supplementing protein, what other protein sources you have, etc.  Wheat gluten can be fine if you get lots of protein overall in your diet or if balanced by other protein sources like beans. I myself eat plenty of it (and it is dirt cheap.) But it is different from whey.  Gluten may not be ideal for your purpose.

      There's another more practical difference.  If you are planning on dissolving the gluten in your green drinks, you may not like the result.  Wheat gluten is very glutinous (hence the name) and will probably clump up.

      People with celiac disease or a family history of it, should avoid gluten. And don't buy gluten made in China as they have been known to put a lot of poisonous crap in it.

      Gluten does however form the basis of seitan, which IMHO is very tasty indeed.

  •  Slightly off topic ... (4+ / 0-)

    ... but by coincidence, I just today sent back a strapless HRM that I found did not work. I've had a defibrillator for about 18 years. Fortunately, it had not shocked me for most of that time -- until a couple of months ago. Since then, it's gone off twice, both times when I was running. I've been a life-long jogger and until these events had not had any problems. So far, docs aren't sure whether the defibrillator was set off by exercise induced arrhythmia or by a normally-elevated heart rate from the exercise. Anyway, long story -- but it's really pretty nasty when the thing goes off, actually knocks me down, so I really want to avoid it. On the other hand, I really want to keep running. So I sent for the HRM to help me regulate my level of exertion during a run. Unfortunately, the defib seems to interfere with the HRM and I didn't get any accurate readings.

    Anyone heard of that issue with the things? Or know how to work around the problem?


  •  good review (4+ / 0-)

    on a complex subject. I did not know something like this even existed. Can you give any recommendation on a specific brand for HRMs.

    •  I stick with the best..... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NC Dem, cdkipp, cusoon, Edward Spurlock

      Polar really created this market and they are still the best and most reliable, IMO, when it comes to heart rate technology. You will pay a little more for a Polar than a comparable off brand, but I think it is worth it.

      They have basic styles that just do heart rate only, all the way up to mini computers. They also have optional modules that can provide GPS data, foot pods for speed and distance sensing, etc.

      Another excellent brand is Suunto. They have always been more tech-oriented, but have improved their style and user-friendliness in the last couple of years.

      Their current line, the "Tc" series (T1c, 3c, 4c, 6c) incorporates new heart rate sensing technology that they claim is some of the most accurate calorie-counting available. I have not tried any of their products out in person and, experienced as I am, am not really qualified to independently evaluate the research behind the new technology. I have been fighting the urge to tap into my savings and get a T6c and the enhanced training software.

      Independent of the calorie stuff, heart rate training can make your workouts more effective. The best cardio routines consist of a blend of long, slow, endurance sessions, shorter, more intense interval workouts, and medium tempo workouts. An HRM will help you slow down when you need to slow down and speed up when you need to speed up. By storing workout data, such as average heart rate, time in zone, peak HR, etc., you can compare workouts and see improvements.

      The only drawback I see is some of the documentation that comes with the HRM. There is a lot of overcomplicated, questionably accurate information about "zone training" out there and it can be confusing to a beginner (and even some experienced exercisers).

      If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

      by Azdak on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 08:31:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        for the info. I shall look into it. I am thinking of buying this for my mother who is a heart patient but is also over weight. Something like this I think  will help her understand when to stop and when to keep going.

        •  As with most gadgets, people are always upgrading (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cdkipp, cusoon

            and offering their previous models for sell at sites like craigslist. Some people might be sketical about buying a used HRM/body strap that someone else has worn but I think that's why we have soap and water.

          •  excellent idea (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I think I'll buy a used one for now and let her tinker with it. If it is useful I can buy a better and newer model. I had a question though- can a person were it for everyday activities too rather than just when one is working out. Can the HRM be helpful to a person who has heart arrhythmia issues ?

            •  I don't think it would help with arrhythmia (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cdkipp, cusoon

                issues since it only records HR at that moment and never checks for a steady pump. I sometimes will wear one during the day if I'm working in the yard doing heavy lifting or digging in the mulch pile for extended periods but I do it only to see how the exercise effects my HR and not for calories burned or any precautions for existing heart problems.

            •  Hmmm..... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cdkipp, cusoon

              If you are purchasing this for an older person w/no experience w/these devices, I would stick with a simple model--either one that does HR only or maybe one that allows you to set exercise zones so that a little beeper goes off when you do too much.

              In a situation where one is trying to monitor absolute heart rate and not calories, then the HRM could be worn for other activities. I would not recommend wearing it all day and I would use it sparingly for that purpose. The chest strap does take some getting used to.

              Lastly--in the case of arrhythmias, you might have some issues. Sometimes the sensors do not work properly in persons with constant arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation. It's another argument in favor of Polar, (and starting out with a used model) and you might do better with the older plastic chest strap rather than the new "soft strap".

              If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

              by Azdak on Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 05:50:19 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  no constant (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                issues like atrial and its more of AV nodal form. She does not have everyday recurrence of high heart rate but it also could be because she is on medication. She has also put on weight (she is vegan though) which primarily stemmed from steroids taken for arthritic pain several years ago. I am encouraging her to increase normal physical activities like walking or stair climbing but I don't want her to overdo and may be I'd ask her to try the HRM.

                •  It's definitely worth a try.... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  I have found that older persons, especially if they do not exercise regularly, do not have a very good sense of their exertion levels with exercise.

                  If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

                  by Azdak on Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 06:23:46 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Azdak, this is really a great diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

      Your writing style flows easily with short declarative statements.

      I have not used a HRM that records or figures VO2max but I don't see how you can get an accurate look of total calories burned without it. I do understand how Polar can extrapolate a VO2max based upon resting HR but the results would have to vary over a pretty wide range.

      At some point I would like to hear some discussion on VO2max and the effects on post exercise calorie burn based upon reaching certain levels. It is amazing to me how quickly a body can adjust to increased exercise levels and then  reach a new equilibrium. I can go without running/jogging for a month and then return for only a day or two re-adjustment to the exercise and return to the same threshold of reaching HRmax in a certain run based upon time and path taken.

    •  As a rule, higer intensity results in longer EPOC (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdkipp, Edward Spurlock

      or Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The same is true for strength training routines.

      There is still no consensus on how long the EPOC interval lasts, or the amount of calories burned, but I think it is agreed that it takes hard work to achieve it.

      What the research does indicate is the EPOC is a transient effect associated with a specific "dose" of exercise--regular aerobic exercise does not create a "permanent" state of increased metabolic activity, nor does light to moderate exercise have much effect at all.

      In some ways this argues in favor of adopting a HIT (High Intensity Training) approach to both cardio and strength training, but there are too many other factors to make such a sweeping recommendation. There are the obvious medical concerns, but also the body responds best to a varied program that includes workouts of different lengths and intensities as well as macrocycles of varying focus and intensity.

      Setting the VO2 max in your HRM is probably the greatest challenge to accuracy. As I said, most people haven't a clue of their fitness level, and yet that number can easily affect the calorie number by 10%-20%. I am an exercise physiologist and I know how to estimate the aerobic level of various walking and running speeds. I have also been exercising long enough (30+ years) that I have a good sense of my exertion level relative to my maximum. So I can calculate my aerobic intensity at a particular running speed, gauge my intensity level (say 75% of maximum) and extrapolate that number into a relatively close VO2 max (I also have test data from when I was in grad school that is a general reference point--at least in telling me what my genetic upper limit was when I was in my "prime").

      The average exerciser is not going to be able to do that.

      Your last paragraph illustrates that there are short-term and long-term adaptations to training.  

      If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer.

      by Azdak on Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 06:21:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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